National Flag dropped in Wild Rice play

From ‘Wild Rice play hits a sour note’, 8 Aug 2013, article by Feng Zengkun, ST

THE provocative ending of the recently staged play Cook A Pot Of Curry caught many people by surprise – and none more so than the authorities. When asked, the Media Development Authority (MDA) replied that the final scene – where a huge Singapore national flag is raised and then dropped to the ground – had not been included in the materials submitted to it for the play’s classification.

The agency added that it has sent a note to local theatre group Wild Rice, which staged the play, to remind it of its obligations.

…”As the last scene in the play was not part of the final script submitted, we wrote to Wild Rice to remind them to do so in the future and to also consult the National Heritage Board on the use of the state flag in their performance,” said a spokesman.

According to the NHB, the flag must be treated with ‘dignity and respect’ at all times. This includes not flying it IN THE DARK, displaying it on the exhaust pipe or wheels of your car, or in ‘bad weather’. If you just won a gold medal for Singapore, you’re also not allowed to wrap it around your body ‘like a sarong’ and run around waving to the crowd no matter how happy you are. You may hold it up after winning a national football trophy like a big Royal Baby, just not when it’s raining, or in the haze for that matter.

As for the play’s ‘gimmicky’ curtain flag dropping on stage, this violates the rule that the flag ‘shall not touch the ground’, though if you’re picky and lazy to explain the act in abstract terms, you could argue that technically a stage is a raised platform and not ‘the ground’.  Such ruling isn’t about veneration of a state symbol so much as anthropomorphizing it like a spoilt little princess, one that must not come into bare contact with mortal skin not to mention a man’s groin, or exposed in any way that outrages its modesty or desecrates its honour. The worst insult to the flag would be burning it, a crime akin to  assassination of royalty. I’m not sure how ‘dignified’ it is, then, to wrap a gurgling, pissing, shitting newborn baby in the flag to symbolise rebirth and renewal. If I were a national flag I wouldn’t be too comfortable with the idea of being hung at a great height from a noisy helicopter either. Some of our very own Red Lions even use the flag as their parachutes during their NDP freefalls. Not sure if they catch the flag entirely before allowing it to drag all over the ground.

You can’t use the flag as an artistic device without seeking permission and the people at Wild Rice should have realised this based on past crackdowns on our flags being ‘abused’ in the name of art. Yet it’s also baffling why the MDA paid special attention to a local play while not doing anything about the flag being vandalised with the words ‘The Used’ at a rock concert some months ago. But flag pampering aside, how much ‘love, respect and dignity’ was given in the MAKING of our flags in the first place? Did anyone check on the factories producing these flags to see if they were packed in boxes in a ‘dignified’ manner, or if faulty ones were disposed in a sanitised, government-approved receptacle without being mixed with used staples and banana skins?

According to a ST Forum writer on 7 Aug (Produce better quality flags), a $2 flag purchased from a community centre had many ‘missing stitches and patches of red dye on the white section’. She complained that the poor quality control from the relevant authorities was a lack of ‘respect and dignity’. For $5 from a petrol station, you may get a similarly crappy flag with distorted red and white sections. Made in China too. NHB makes no mention in its guidelines about how a single stitch on the flag should not be out of place, but perhaps they should also take some responsibility for the distribution of such shoddy merchandise from the beginning. If you’re so particular about how a flag is treated, you should jolly well start ‘respecting it’ from the very first stitch from which it birthed and not just when it’s out of its packaging, unless you’re willing to admit that a flag is only to be revered when you unbox it, before which it’s a mere piece of cloth that can barely pass off as a hankerchief.

In fact, if you’re a true patriot you should boycott all poor quality China-made flags and only settle for an artisanal one painstakingly handstitched to precision, down to the exact Pantone 032 reds and Pantone whites, by homegrown veterans. If it weren’t forbidden, I would even use it as a blanket at night and dream sweet dreams of how we built a nation, strong and free.

Happy 48th birthday, Singapore!

About these ads

68 ordinary Singaporeans can’t save the NDP song

From ‘Netizens slam NDP 2013 song’, 18 July 2013, article by Lok Jiawen, TNP

It’s a birthday song that’s supposed to bring a nation together. But this year’s National Day Parade (NDP) theme song, One Singapore, has become the target of criticism, even before it is officially released.

“On par or even ‘better’ than Rebecca Black’s Friday”, “horrid” and “jialat (terrible in Hokkien)” are some of the online comments on the song, released online by The Straits Times on Tuesday.

Written by NDP creative director Selena Tan with music composed by local music director Elaine Tan, it is sung by a choir of 68 everyday Singaporeans.

Ms Tan has shrugged off the criticism, saying that music is subjective and that even she has songs she likes and dislikes. Local music icon Dick Lee, 56, who penned the NDP theme songs in 1998 (Home) and 2002 (We Will Get There), questioned the need for a new song each year.

Getting theatre people to write NDP songs is probably a bad idea. Selina Tan of the acclaimed Dim Sum Dollies may have written the decent ‘Love Your Ride’ jingle, but put her creative talents under the cloak of patriotism and you have a disaster waiting to happen. The same NDP curse befell playwright Haresh Kumar, who conceptualised the ‘Fun Pack Song’. There’s something about the crescent moon and stars that regresses artistic people into children, because that is exactly who the annoying cheerleader vibe of ‘One Singapore’ appeals to. Some have commented on the ST page that it belongs on the Kids Central channel, or should be celebrated as a Children’s Day song. The rest talk about comas and bleeding ears.

There’s even a rap thrown in the mix, which goes:

Yo, I may look like I’m a tiny thing, here I am I can bravely sing!
For sure I’m gonna give you my everything, that’s how I play when the recess bell rings
I’m gonna give it my all, cos this is my home, I love (x4) my Singapore

To my knowledge this is the only ever rap composed for an official NDP song, though there have been rap ‘remixes’ of NDP classics. The ‘recess bell’ line doesn’t even make sense, because how kids ‘play’ during recess has nothing to do with nation-building. When kids that age ‘give their all’, it’s almost always for PSLE, not for the nation. Furthermore it’s 2013, not 1993 folks, nobody starts a rap with ‘YO’ anymore. I forsee inverted baseball caps if there’s ever a video for this ( I was wrong. There were caps in the MV, but not inverted).

But to me the biggest culprit of this track is not the recycled lyrics (even the song title is recycled, see below), the forgettable tune or the sheer waste of 68 voices, but the ‘stuck in the 90’s’ production. It sounds like they’re reusing the same TV theme instrumentation from the days of ‘Under One Roof’. There’s nothing resounding or sweeping about ‘One Singapore’ like an anthem should be, it just sounds like a 90’s opening theme for Moulmein High. The ‘Woah-oh’ chorus is something our grandparents may relate to, though.

Dull and uninspiring without the cheesy bombast of the songs of the past, some patriotic soul ought to save this mess with a simpler acoustic version (my prayer answered below), because the current orchestration belongs more on a direct shopping channel or The Pyramid Game ending credits than on a grand stage with millions watching, or ANYWHERE from the 21st century.

It’s not the first time we’ve used an anonymous choir for NDP songs. Some of the most memorable songs were not sung by local celebrities, like Stand Up For Singapore and We Are Singapore. In fact, there’s a far superior NDP song with the same ‘One Singapore’ theme sung by a bunch of nobodies, with more rousing melodies, better production and an emotional climax that will put the whimper of an end of the 2013 song to total shame. It’s the underrated  ‘One People, One Nation, One Singapore’ from 1990. And that’s, believe it or not, from TWENTY-THREE YEARS AGO.

With so many years of experience in NDP songwriting you’d expect these songs to get better with time. Sadly, the reverse is happening. For once, this is one NDP song that is in desperate need for a REMIX. Any takers? (There’s a acoustic version already as we speak courtesy of local boy/girl indie crooners The Animal Parade. Now this is what I call music. Selina Tan, your salvation is here and she wears a Minnie Mouse hat.)

NDP funpack is sleek, modern and elegant

From ‘Simple, elegant NDP fun pack to keep and re-use’, 4 July 2013, article by David Ee, ST

WITH an outline of red trimming, the predominantly white goodie bag for this year’s National Day Parade is a departure from previous years’ more vivid colours and patterns. Last year, the fun pack was a bold red, while in 2011 it depicted watercolour scenes.

Designed by Nanyang Polytechnic industrial design students, the latest pack is largely bare apart from the familiar lion head representing Singapore….The bag is “sleek and modern” and “elegant”, said the organisers, who hope that spectators will re-use it rather than toss it away after Aug 9.

Said Lieutenant-Colonel Chang Pin Chuan, who chairs the NDP’s logistics and finance committee: “The NDP fun pack is an enduring feature, we give them out every year. We want to make sure it is being re-used by people.”

It can double as a sling bag. Some netizens, however, gave the pack the thumbs down.

Posting on The Straits Times’ Facebook page, user Azriel Azman said: “I can’t remember the last time I saw a Singaporean teenager using a NDP bag as an accessory when they go out.”

Packed. With fun.

Somewhere in some parade regular’s home lies a dusty collection of souvenir flags, knapsacks, party packs and sling bags which haven’t been used since they were distributed at NDP parades but being hoarded till they die because throwing away an ugly bag that says ‘Majulah’ on it is unpatriotic. If the funpack is touted as ‘reusable’, why do we keep creating NEW ones to replace the old ones? Because that’s exactly when it’s likely to be used again, ONE YEAR later at the same parade.

We have recovered from the embarrassment that is the ‘Fun Pack Song’ in 2011 and moved on with a concept that passes off ‘plain’ for ‘elegant’ and ‘stylish’. Nothing wrong with simple designs, of course. Except that the 2013 edition fun pack looks like it was inspired by a sexy nurse uniform.

Sleek lines

But let’s forget about what’s fashionable on the outside and look at what’s INSIDE the fun pack. This year’s noise-maker is inspired by the angklung, a three tone bamboo flute that looks like what centaurs hoot with as part of mating rituals. There’s a ‘clap banner’ that resembles a paper accordion, and the standard food and beverage kit that Mindef refers to as ‘sustenance’ items. The weapon of choice this year is an extendable light-stick that is looks like a discarded prototype prop out of a Star Wars knock-off. What’s missing, however, is a red and white special edition N-95 mask, which the organisers probably thought would be a bad idea in case someone decides to sell it online for a ridiculous profit when the haze comes around next year.

Here’s a list of other wacky, fun-filled items that have been dished out to NDP attendees over the years:

2012: Bandana with snap band. You can wear this during Zumba class.

2011: Mr Bean maracas. So you can shake your groove thang to the Fun Pack Song.

2007: Animal hats.  Because there is a bit of Madagascar in every Singaporean.

2002: Heart-shaped drum. So you can ‘make some noise’ when Gurmit Singh tells you to.

2001: Nescafe instant coffee powder. Because there are some people who boil water on the go.

And there’s the stuff for vintage collectors or curators of a museum:

1995: Limited edition phonecards

1993: Pocket radio.

Not sure if there’s too much stuff for a few hours of revelry here. Most people go to 3 hour outdoor concerts with nothing more than a lighter or their handphones passing off as torches, not a picnic basket. There’s also more calories in a NDP funpack than in the goodie bag you get after running a full marathon. You may even survive a day or two lost in desert with the damn thing, fending off sandstorms with the poncho and skewering scorpions as nourishment with the extendable light sabre. If your parade programme is captivating enough, you don’t need to equip your audience with toys to keep them entertained. For the price of fun, you’re also keeping hundreds of cleaners occupied till the wee hours AFTER the merry-making and light-stick waving.

If they don’t end up shelved in the closet, funpack goodies may get strewn across parade grounds as litter, be it deflated clappers, plastic bottles, tissue or biscuit wrappers, whether or not the pack itself is recyclable high-fashion. Unless someone creates a more environmentally friendly, low-carbon footprint party kit, like say, a flute made entirely out of Khong Guan cracker which you can consume after tooting it, it’s not so much a funpack as it is, ultimately, a JUNKpack.

$17 million NDP having too many rehearsals

From ‘Reduce expenditure for National Day Parade’, 14 Sept 2012, ST Forum

(Matthew Yeo): I AM surprised by the amount of public funding for the National Day Parade (“National Day Parade costs rise to $17.2m”; Tuesday). Why was there a need for so many rehearsals? A glitch is all right, especially when we now believe it is okay to make mistakes as long as we learn from them.

I am also curious to know why the cost of fireworks and ammunition was not mentioned. Were they really necessary during rehearsals? Each year, there are too many man-hours lost in the rehearsals, which blunt the excitement of the actual Parade itself.

The most expensive NDP ever held ($20 million) was in 2010 at the Padang, not that I remembered anything about it that distinguished this from the rest (It went mostly into laying the stage for the show, including 17 support towers for 3 LED screens). Though expenses dipped last year, it’s worth recalling that some of that 17 million went into making fun packs, and the FUN PACK song, which ended up being scrapped, and wasted, for copyright reasons. Today’s standards, of course, are a far cry from the 1 million budget we allocated to NDP in the eighties, a time when they could produce more memorable National Songs on $2.50 cassette tapes than the multi-million polished laser-guided extravangzas of today ever can. In the past, some Singaporeans thought that props like a $143,000 ‘PSA Dragon’ were a total waste of money, which does make sense considering how you only show off these dazzling displays a couple of times and then chuck them aside forever.

The reason for the expensive rehearsals and previews is that the NDP is not just for the general Singaporean audience alone, where you can ‘glitch’ up and not worry about being flamed online later. The NDP has to be blooper-free because it’s not just us or the government and President watching, but perhaps the rest of the world. As a once-a-year event with a long history of prestige and pride, this singular celebration of a nation, the holy mother of all parades and performances, has to run like clockwork because on this one very special day, the NDP simply has to be the Greatest Propaganda Show on Earth and there is no excuse in not delivering anything less. As a means to show off our military might to make our neighbours tremble with apprehension and showcase our ability to afford pyrotechnics, itself a prime indicator of our economic health, running it like a school play is to risk mockery by the entire nation. Not everyone is as forgiving as the complainant if some soldier misfires, if the parade commander botches his commands, or if someone in the VIP seat starts playing with their phone during the National Anthem. In 2006, someone complained to the press about a SPELLING error on the NDP TICKET (separate, not seperate). Last year, some disapproved of cross-dressing in one of the skits and called for the parade to be slapped with a NC-16 warning. Such vehemence towards cock-ups just goes to show how high our expectations are for this annual blast of pomp and patriotism, like deprived peasants devouring the bloody spectacle of a gladiator match in a Colosseum. You want to see savage beasts dismembering each other, not whimpering pussy cats dodging balls of wool.

But perhaps we’re only looking at costs at face value, for there are environmental reasons to curb the festivities as well. In 2008, someone suggested cancelling the flypast during NDP because it consumed jet fuel and caused noise pollution during rehearsals.  If you’re a nature lover you may bemoan the plight of airborne creatures exposed to the chemical fizz from fireworks or wild shots from 21 gun salutes. Yet, within the same year, the same eco-warrior may have added more destructive carbon into the atmosphere by traveling, turning on the air-conditioner daily or simply watching TV. So yes, although bigger and brighter doesn’t always mean better, the NDP isn’t something to be stinged on either. It’s like replacing your grandmother’s favourite shark’s fin soup with fish maw broth during her birthday bash.

We’re not ready for a world without LKY

From ‘Singapore heaves huge sigh of relief at Lee Kuan Yew’s NDP appearance’, 10 Aug 2012, article by Melissa Aw, Yahoo News.

…In the past week, rumours swirled online and offline that the former Singapore Prime Minister’s health was fading quickly. Day by day, the speculation grew stronger and wilder.

…Although a quick check by Yahoo! at Lee’s Oxley Road house on Wednesday showed nothing out of the ordinary, rumours continued to grow online and offline. Soon, the health of Lee became a topic of national debate and the “will he or won’t he appear at NDP?” question grew into a audible chorus ahead of National Day.

Even members of the media were not immune to the frenzy.  The Straits Times’ political journalist Tessa Wong addressed the rumours on Twitter, dismissing claims of a cover-up and that Lee was alive and well.  Channel NewsAsia editor and presenter Glenda Chong also stepped up to clear the rumours on her Facebook wall on Wednesday.

Without mentioning names, she wrote, “So a lot of people have been asking me a question! He’s alive and please watch NDP tomorrow… Trust me he’s alive, otherwise I will be extremely busy!”

The reporter above was kind enough not to pose the REAL question on everyone’s minds this past week leading up to NDP. Did LKY DIE before the parade? Then there are the conspiracy theorists and their ‘body double’ explanations for his miraculous appearance. The truth turned out to be stranger than the fiction one sees in typical Dictator stereotypes or madcap movies like Weekend at Bernie’s; the old man’s still alive, though to say that such rife hearsay kept everyone tense on the edge of their seats and emitting a huge gaseous sigh of relief is probably pushing it. The nail-biting twisty climax to what appears to be a bad M Night Shyamalan political thriller is an apt image of LKY looking dapper in red, giving a victorious double thumbs up. It could have been two middle fingers instead.

Leader in Red

Don’t these internet gossips know that if they’re trying to start a fire online they’re equally likely to get burnt? Yaacob Ibrahim just added one more reason to this list of ‘Reasons to Regulate the Internet’ in his push for a Code of Conduct. But what’s interesting about the Yahoo article is not so much its content, but the title of its weblink in full:

http://sg.news.yahoo.com/spore-not-ready-for-a-world-without-lee-kuan-yew-.html

Which raises the question: What will become of us when LKY is dead and gone? Will we be like sheeps without a shepherd? A rock band without a drummer? A brothel without a mama-san? Sewer rats without the Pied Piper?

It’s not surprising that LKY has ‘used up’ one of his 9 lives before. In 2010, ex-Singaporean and now American lawyer Gopalan Nair admitted in his Singapore Dissident blog to publishing a hoax that LKY had ‘suffered from a massive heart attack':

Even though I made up everything I said about Dear Leader about his heart attack, and none of it is true, I can assure you that the scenario that I painted assuming that he dies is completely correct.

So what scenario was Nostradamus here talking about? According to his original tall tale, ‘such a happening can destroy the business confidence and cause total destruction in the small island city state.’ There were also ‘peaceful protesters and demonstrators… holding placards reading “Democracy” and “Down With the Dictator” and chanting slogans.’ As far as I’m aware there were no ‘Hurry up and Die already’ campaigns going on in the build-up to NDP aside from the scatterbrained hullabaloo and white noise in social media. If the sources were in fact reliable, I would think most of us would have been stunned at first, but gradually come to accept and carry on with our lives. We wouldn’t be thinking of packing our bags and, like Gopalan, seek asylum in a country where you can get gunned down by madmen while watching Batman in a movie theatre or praying to your gods in a temple. In fact, Gopalan is still drilling in our heads even in the midst of this gonzo media circus that we’ll be hapless without LKY, that the stock market would plunge, and the Sing dollar would be worthless. WORTHLESS, I tell you. Woe is me!

If LKY did have a major coronary, the media would have jumped on it like a rabid coyote, as how they have done in the past reporting on the state of the elder statesman’s health from minor infections to bladder evacuations. We really didn’t need to know. Telling me that LKY was ‘ill’ before the parade is nothing new, so someone decided to up the ante and say ‘Hey, why not have him DEAD for a change?’

2011-Peripheral neuropathy (as revealed by daughter Lee Wei Ling)

2008 -Abnormal heart rhythm (article above)

2003- Prostate Surgery 

1998 – Infection arising from minor surgical procedure (SM in hospital, 23 Nov 1998, ST)

1997 – Acute respiratory tract infection (SM Lee in hospital due to infection, 7 Sept 1997, ST)

1997 – Elective evacuation of the bladder (SM Lee to undergo elective evacuation of the bladder, 11 Jan 1997, ST)

1996 – Balloon angioplasty (SM’s balloon angioplasty op a success: PMO, 16 March 1996, ST)

It’s easy to spin insensitive yarns about someone’s father and grandfather when you’re based overseas and still persist in egging LKY’s lawyers to sue you for slander, but more importantly, bad taste. Gopalan had it easy compared to Twitter users like ‘izreloaded’, who got name-dropped in the Yahoo article above as one of the perpetrators of a highly contagious rumour. But it’s one thing to plant a lie in the national psyche for your own sick indulgence, another to condemn the country into anarchy and chaos because of the demise of one man, especially if you’re not doing anything to help avert the impending end of Singapore as we know it, a ringside commentator pulling one awful joke after another. This Gopalan prophet of the coming apocalypse may have no love lost for LKY, but where’s the faith in the the rest of us? If the old man is as formidably crafty as he’s reputed to be, he would have set a series of events in motion as part of an elaborate grand scheme of command and control, to ensure that Singapore runs like clockwork centuries after his death, like how we splice a dead Nat King Cole with his daughter Natalie in an ‘Unforgettable’ duet and still make it number one on the charts.

Still, nothing bugs a nation like an dead or dying dictator/autocrat. Fidel Castro was reportedly dead (false) earlier this year, the dates of rumour-mongering occurring near two special dates for the Cuban leader, similar to how sparks flew near our very own 9th of August. Barely taking over the reins from his late father, Kim Jong Un was ‘assassinated’ by gunmen in what would have been the month of his dad’s 70th birthday. Equally ‘killed by Internet’ were Hosni Murbarak, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Suharto. This bespeaks a frivolous trend of ‘Dead Evil Leader pranking’, which plays psychological parlour tricks on our basic emotions. Rumour feeds the need to be heard, the sudden loss of a figure of stifling authority feeds our need to be free, while the stock market blips attest to our fear. What we need the most now, though, is the belief that we can carry on. With or without LKY.

And we can only hope that when the time comes, it doesn’t end up like this.

We are all doomed

Singaporean flying China flag outside HDB

From ‘Police investigate woman over China flag hung outside HDB’, 26 July 2012, article in asiaone.com

A 54-year-old Chinese Singaporean woman is being investigated for an offence under the National Emblems (Control of Display) Act. It is believed that the offence is related to a China flag that was hung over the parapet of a Hougang HDB block, right next to a Singapore flag.

The news first made headlines when photographs were taken of the flag and posted on citizen journalism website Stomp. They have since gone viral, with several concerned citizens asking if it is allowed. In a statement posted on their Facebook page, the police clarified that the public display of state flags of any nation other than Singapore is “generally disallowed,” unless an exception is catered for.

If convicted, the offender may be fined up to $500, imprisoned for up to 6 months, or both.

Flag of our Great Great Grand-fathers

According to the National Emblems (Control of Display) Act, only diplomats, members of the Commonwealth, anyone granted ‘immunities and privileges’ or ships may bear flags. As for Chinese holidays, the closest one falls on 1 Aug and is ominously called ‘ARMY DAY’, while Chinese National Day occurs on 1 Oct. The archaic law (last updated in 1987) only applies to displays that may be viewed in a generally public place from a road, street, footway, passage etc.  You may, however,  still walk about with a Union Jack painted on your face or wear a Japanese Banzai headband without being hauled up for investigations. Football fans throng pubs in World Cup jerseys, flashing national banners in support of their teams. Harley Davidson uncles don Stars and Stripes bandanas while chugging around on their bikes. Swedish flags grace the aisles and cafeterias of Ikea. We’re a bustling bazaar of international emblems, some of which, like the USA flag, have become ubiquitous logos. Yet, we only catch a glimpse of the five stars and a moon decorating our flats once a year. Most of us who complain about eyesore China flags don’t even know what Majulah Singapura means. No one notices the mattress draped over the Singapore flag in the most telling manner above.

Despite a recent wave of anti-xenophobic crusades by the internet community to promote acceptance of our immigrants and their cultural baggage, we cry foul and NIMBY over a China flag hanging over a parapet, which for whatever reason it was put up in the first place, has come to symbolise the sinister beginnings of a hostile takeover.  Our table tennis team, for example, all once swore allegiance the Chinese flag. Even our homegrown singing pastors are paying tribute to ‘China Wine’. We Singaporeans, on the other hand, wrap our side mirrors with images of flag, flip it the wrong way or upside down, cover it with laundry or bedlinen, wear it around our crotch or use it as a mat for some serious teenage hanky-panky. At least someone is treating a flag the way it should be treated.

This isn’t the first time, though, that China or other national flags have been making an insurgence into the heartlands. The richest source for such sightings, unfortunately, comes from STOMP, which is of course, a troll haven for anyone with Photoshop skills and a NIMBY agenda.

That being said, I wonder if anyone would bring an American to task for putting up the Stars and Stripes on the 4th of July.

National anthem is not Mari Kita

From ‘Understanding Majulah Singapura’, 4 July 2012, ST Forum

(Grace Zhang): MONDAY’S article (‘Sung with national pride’) about the significance of national anthems – or their irrelevance – spurred my thoughts about our National Anthem. In all honesty, I almost forgot its title when I tried to recall it; assuming it was Mari Kita (Let Us) because these are the first words, before I remembered that it is Majulah Singapura (Onward Singapore).

Sadly, beyond the title, I have no clue what the rest of the anthem means, despite having sung it every single day from primary school to junior college.

My second problem is that the anthem is in Malay. If the purpose of a national anthem is to forge national identity and rally citizens towards a common vision or goal, why choose a language that four-fifths of Singaporeans today neither speak nor understand?

Should our National Anthem be updated? The view that doing so would open a Pandora’s box of unwelcome controversy framed along sensitive racial lines misses the point. The problem is not that most Singaporeans do not understand Malay, but that we do not understand what our National Anthem means.

More effort must be made in schools to teach the anthem to students. I remember being cursorily taught its meaning in primary school, with its translation tucked away in an obscure page of a social studies text. If efforts are not made to impress the meaning and significance of the National Anthem, then generations of students will continue to sing Majulah Singapura every morning without understanding its importance or worth.

Our national anthem has been affectionately known as ‘Mari Kita’ since the eighties, and during my time no effort was made by music teachers to decipher the lyrics for us. Even if you were grilled into appreciating the gist of the song,  if you’re not a native Malay speaker you’re highly likely to mistake your bersatu’s for your berseru’s, and not knowing what either word means. Perhaps it’s not so much we don’t get the lyrics DESPITE singing it every day in school, but rather BECAUSE of it. Whether translated into English, Chinese of Tamil, if you make a chore out of singing Majulah Singapura, it loses its meaning and hence any sense of patriotic fervour whatsoever. When Majulah’s composer Zubir Said died in 1987, the ST headlines read ‘Mr Marikita: Shy, humble and well loved’ (17 November 1987), which translates into the nonsensical Mr ‘Let Us’.  It’s also unfortunate considering ‘Marikita’ has also been abused as a euphemism for an erection, by association with flag-RAISING ceremonies and standing at attention.

Maybe it’s not so much the content or language of the anthem that matters, but the emotions, history and familiarity that its melody and mood stir within every true blue Singaporean who has ever sung it loud and proud during assembly, NDP, or a medal ceremony at the Olympics. Language is irrelevant when you have a homegrown athlete beating others on the world stage, shedding a tear on the podium when the instrumental anthem is played. In fact, ‘Onward Singapore’ doesn’t do justice to the pride and glory that swells inside us when a fellow Singaporean, not some Chinese import, achieves the unthinkable. What matters is how much heart and soul you put into it, nevermind how bad your Malay is.

It’s also hard to come up with anything catchier than our national anthem; the opening drumroll, the empathic horns, the goosebump-raising crescendoes. No composer in the history of Singaporean music has produced a more immortal tune that ranks amongst greats like ‘Chan Mali Chan’, the Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Yankie Doodle’. You don’t have to understand English to know that ‘Yesterday’ is a melancholy ballad about lost love, or that ‘Yankie Doodle’ is about musket-carrying soldiers marching and tooting in victory. Chan Mali Chan just sounds like a happy song. Some have lauded Majulah as short, simple and understandable. In fact, the late S Rajaratnam believed that ‘the Malay lyrics were so simple that anyone above the age of 5, unless MENTALLY RETARDED‘ should be able to sing it (Thanks for the link, ‘Matthew’), which makes those of us adults who commit the bersatu-berseru blooper complete idiots.  ‘Majulah’ is a timeless, chest-beating classic that transcends mere words, which, as with all anthems, are ultimately banal drivel without a rousing, effective tune making it come alive. According to Wikipedia’s English translation, two thirds of the anthem consist of the following refrain:

Come, let us unite
In a new spirit
Together we proclaim
Onward Singapore
Onward Singapore

Which doesn’t make me sing Majulah with any more gusto and ‘feeling’ than if I didn’t know what it meant. Anthem aside, not many Singaporeans I know could easily rattle off what the 5 stars of the National Flag symbolise either.  We can’t even remember 5 things in English, let alone an entire song in Malay.

Postscript: A silly rumour has been floating around in the Twitterverse that the suggestion to change the anthem to Chinese was raised by President Tony Tan. No official sources of such a remark have been cited.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 298 other followers